GM Revamps OnStar: Take a Long Look In the Mirror

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gm revamps onstar take a long look in the mirror

When General Motors first deployed OnStar, it was a little more than an emergency services hotline. Drivers in need could tap a blue button on their rearview mirror and immediately get in contact with an operator. The system could also do this automatically in the event of a crash. OnStar later introduced anti-theft measures, turn-by-turn navigation, and remote access as part of a subscription plan.

However, with General Motors seeing dollar signs wherever connectivity is involved, the automaker wants to retool the system. OnStar will continue offering existing services, but GM is changing the subscription model and placing a new emphasis on data acquisition. The good news is that the tiered payment model will offer more features starting in May. Unfortunately, some those amenities used to be free and those fed up with companies selling your data or paranoid about Orwellian Big Brother scenarios might be less enthusiastic about the long-term corporate vision.

In reality, the latter half of that equation isn’t really any more sinister than what’s currently being offered. OnStar can already keep track of and access your vehicle remotely. The difference is that GM is going to attempt to collect that data more effectively and monetize it for financial gain. The upshot is that it comes with new tech and connectivity features some of the public is likely to be very interested in — like in-car shopping and delivery services or advanced vehicle diagnostics sent directly to the dealership.

We’ve already seen the company pushing e-commerce via its Marketplace app. One of the more recent pilot programs involves a digital gas-payment system via its partnership with Shell. But GM has been offering digital purchasing deals through Groupon, Priceline, ExxonMobil through OnStar’s At Your Service for years now. Now it’s ramping those up by syncing more preferred (i.e. partnered) brands with its onboard Marketplace app.

One of the weirder ones is with Amazon, which allows OnStar to remotely provide access to delivery drivers if you want them to drop packages off inside your car. Provided you’re comfortable with someone accessing your vehicle to make a drop, it’s actually a handy little feature.

General Motors sees non-core businesses as a $1.5 billion profit growth opportunity, and a significant portion of it takes place behind the scenes. Monetizing data is something many automakers are looking into and GM is right at the front of the pack. But that only works if a lot of people sign up for OnStar, so the company is sharing revenue with dealers who encourage customers to sign up.

Gerard Connell, director of sales and marketing for global connected customer experience, told Automotive News OnStar’s longterm strategy will continue to expand its services as GM focuses on data. Last week, during the Amazon announcement, CEO Mary Barra noted that the automaker will also expand into areas “that will generate revenue and profitability as we leverage the connectivity and then the ability to monetize data both in the vehicle and sharing it with other companies.”

In the short term, that means restructuring for OnStar. Starting this week, the service will go from three plans to five. The most basic is the $14.99 per month Remote Access package. That service, while previously free, allows customers to control key fob functions through their smartphone. Now, drivers will have to pay for the privilege. Connell says it’s worth it because it includes diagnostic services and other amenities.

“Really, the primary purpose of that basic plan is to make sure we know what’s going on with the car,” he said. “We can get them to a dealership and we can help them understand the state of their car.”

Stepping up to $24.99 a month grants customers access to OnStar’s Security package. This includes roadside assistance, navigation, and stolen-car recovery services. More expensive plans include additional connectivity services with the all-inclusive Connectivity, Safety, and Security package, coming in at $59.99 per month. As the most expensive tier, it comes bundled with unlimited data as well.

Overall, the new pricing makes everything a bit more expensive on the low and high end of the spectrum, but includes additional data services. You could argue that the prices should come down if General Motors plans to market to you directly through your car while selling your data to other companies.

It’s a shrewd move on the part of GM, and it’ll likely impress investors and boost revenue, but we’re less than enthusiastic about the strategy from the perspective of consumers. They’re losing some features that used to be free and opting into becoming both customer and commodity as a result of GM’s new data acquisition angle. Perhaps that’s the price of progress, but we’re wondering if it should be. We hope the automaker exercises some restraint and prioritizes the welfare of its consumer base as it continues hunting for alternative revenue streams and interesting new services.

In the meantime, you’ll have to take a look in the mirror and decide what you’re willing to put up with.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • Watersketch Watersketch on Apr 30, 2018

    I find the $20 per month all-you-can eat data to be quite a deal. Sign up for it most months we do a road trip. The kids and spouse can surf to their hearts content and is a better signal than sharing a cellphone Wi-Fi hotspot.

  • TheEndlessEnigma TheEndlessEnigma on May 01, 2018

    Onstar in the cars, whether I want it or not, is a primary reason GM product hasn't been on my cars-to-check-out-list for about 18 years now. I remember a conversation with a car dealer circa 2002. I was looking at a very well equipped Impala and asked for a non-Onstar option. They told me it wasn't possible, standard equipment. I then asked for Onstar to be disconnected before delivery. Nope, not possible. You disconnect Onstar and the car won't run. I ended up with a Hyundai Tiburon instead (yes, I know....but I didn't know any better).

  • Tassos I hope y'all had a happy Thanksgiving. To answer the question, my present car is almost Ideal for such road trips, but I can think of an even better one, which has the same awesome engine in a bigger, far more luxurious vehicle.OK, let's THINK, what kind of car is best for such a trip? NOT a 911 or a Corvette, not a Body-on-frame pickup truck or SUV. It has to be a LONG vehicle, and most importantly, with a LONG WHEELBASE. It should be quite heavy so it is comfortable (in addition to the always nice to have passive safety). It should be powerful but frugal, with today's ridiculous gas prices. It should be LUXURIOUS so when you get out of it after 12 hours of driving, to feel as rested and relaxed as when you started the trip. So naturally the best candidates are FLAGSHIP LUXURY SEDANS with the above attributes. What are the best ones to choose? A 2007-2012 Lexus 460 LS would be hard to refuse, and is very reliable to boot. (in 2012 they ruined its grille), but is poor in other chores (handling, poor steering feel etc). A BMW 7 series, like the MAGNIFICENT 1998 740iL with its adequate 4.4 lt V8 and its 282 HP and 300+ LBFT torque was also an excellent cruiser AS WELL as a great (as if on rails!) Handling car, with plenty of features and luxury fit for a king inside (plus they had facrtory GPS as early as 1998, which Merc Did not then!), but it is not as reliable as you would like. I owned one from 2005 to 2017, almost 20 years old and 150k miles at the end, when I donated it. My current car is just perfect for this job, being a GLORIOUS DIESEL Merc E 320 Bluetec 2007 (I also have a 2008 twin!), it gets 35-37 MPG on long trips, which offsets the ridiculous current Diesel prices, AND its 21 Gallon tank gives you 700-800 MILES OF RANGE, so you can fill up at the lowest cost stations at your convenience. COmpared with the BMW 7 V8, its V6 actually gives you about the3 same performance at half the MPG!! Because the HP may be less (208 vs 282) BUT the TOrque can only be matched by AMG gas versions, the E55 AMG, at over 400 LBFT.If you want a little better than the above AWESOME choice, try the S350 Bluetec Diesel, 2010-2013 models. THere are very few Diesels sold in the US, so you may have to drive 4 hours to buy yours (as I had to do with both of mine), BUT it is REALLY WORTH IT.BTW, the extra benefit of the diesel MErcs, they are THE MOST RELIABLE VEHICLES I EVER DROVE, and I had plenty of Hondas and other alleged reliable cars in the past. TWO diesels, owned from 2016 and 2017, and NOTHING went wrong with them except ROUTINE Maintenance, brake pad replacement, new set of tires, NO FAILURES OF ANY KIND!If you have experienced these outstanding cruisers, tell us what you think. If NOT, try them!
  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
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